It’s little wonder Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd’s proposed new economic stimulus package got good reviews in the construction industry: More than half of the plan’s $24.1 billion in appropriations is aimed at infrastructure. and another provision would fix the projected Highway Trust Fund deficit. But the proposal faces an uphill path. Congress may have as few as three weeks to act on it before the election. Moreover, Republicans haven’t rushed to embrace Byrd’s ideas.
The West Virginia Democrat maintains that “the need for a second stimulus supplemental bill is clear,” and cites the economy’s low growth rate and large job losses. His plan, not yet introduced as a bill, covers a wide range of public works, including $4.7 billion in highway appropriations. The package also would shift $8 billion from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund, which would more than cancel a projected $3-billion 2009 shortfall in the trust fund’s highway account.
“We definitely support and like what Byrd is offering on infrastructure issues, particularly the trust-fund fix,” says Cathy Connor, Parsons Brinckerhoff senior vice president for government affairs. “I think clearly that the Democratic leadership in Congress really wants this done.” But, she says, “Where it goes from there I’m just not sure. This is just the first stab at it.”
Another source says, “It doesn’t appear that [Byrd’s plan] has involved any kind of bipartisan collaboration at this point to come up with these numbers.” The source says the proposal could be “a placeholder...for some time in the future,” but will need GOP support to pass.
|Proposed New Package Includes:|
Infrastructure, Energy, Economic Recovery
|Highways: $3.6 billion, and $8-billion shift to trust-fund.|
|Transit: $893 million for capital and operating expenses.|
|Airports: $200 million for capital improvements.|
|Housing: $215 million for safety, security, energy projects.|
|Water: $200 million for Clean Water SRFs.|
|Public schools: $850 million for repairs, upgrades.|
|GSA: $100 million for border stations; $361 million for Dept. of Homeland Security headquarters.|
|HUD: $1.8 billion for block grants to states.|
|FHWA: $1.2 billion for emergency road repairs.|
|Corps: $360 million for levee repairs, dredge waterways.|
|GSA: $182 million for Cedar Rapids, Iowa, courthouse.|
|Hurricane Katrina Recovery|
|Louisiana: $1.5 billion. Mississippi coast: $953 million.|
SOURCE: OFFICE OF SEN. ROBERT C. BYRD
Pam Whitted, National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association vice president for government affairs, believes Congress will fix the Highway Trust Fund problem, but adds, “I’m not sure there is as much unanimity on a second stimulus.” After seeing how the economy fares in September, Whitted says, “We’re going to have a better idea.”